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Archaeotrek—Alternate Perceptions Magazine, October 2015

Stone Cairns in Mississippi

by: Dr. Greg Little

Most readers are aware of the presence of stone cairns (heaps of rock piles deliberately formed into mounds, stacks, or other formations) in America’s northeast. New England, New York, Pennsylvania, West Virginia, and even Georgia and Tennessee had many at one time. Many of these are attributed to ancient Native American cultures and are thought to be burials or some form of marker. For example, In West Virginia, several cairns on top of Mount Carbon were found to be burials. When we visited Mount Carbon two years ago we found one of the stone cairns that was excavated by the Smithsonian back in the 1800s. It contained burials. However, few people associate cairns with the state of Mississippi.

It is known that many small cairns were made in Mississippi by the Choctaw. They built small rock piles for the purpose of storing food. However, in North Mississippi there were numerous large rock mounds and cairns built in ancient times. By the early 1900s, virtually all of them had been vandalized and looted. They have been lost in time and are largely forgotten.

In Archeology of Mississippi (1926) Calvin Brown presented what was then the most comprehensive overview of archaeology in the state. Brown held a bachelors and masters in Language and Literature from Vanderbilt and a Ph.D. in Comparative Literature from the University of Colorado.

In 1918 he examined seven cairns near Dumas, MS in Tippah County. One of them was rectangular, 4 feet tall with an axis of 25 by 34 feet. It was located on the top of a high ridge with a view of 5-8 miles down a valley. A nearby cairn was also 4 feet high with a base of 34 by 30 feet. He was told that some years earlier a skeleton had been removed from it. A total of seven cairns were found in the immediate area, most of which were on ridges. Another large stone mound was located near Ripley, MS, and it was said to “be one of the monumental tumuli of the aborigines, and similar in character to the cairns of Scotland.”

Near Corinth, MS, in Alcorn County, two more stone mounds were reported. In addition, Brown reported that he was informed of a large complex of cairns, all 3-5 feet high, near Belmont in Tishomingo County.

Monday, May 29, 2023